Q&A with Deputy District Attorney Sean Daugherty
The following Q&A is with Sean Daugherty, a Deputy District Attorney currently assigned to the Barstow Office of the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office. Daugherty has been with the office for eleven years.
Q: What has been the most challenging case you’ve handled?
SD: This is a difficult question to answer. Each case, in particular homicide cases and cases involving crimes against children, inherently has its own challenges. Those challenges include sometimes having to deal with the horrific acts and photographs involved in the case or the idiosyncrasies of the defendant. If I had to choose, the case of People v. Jeami Chiapulis was particularly challenging. We did not have a body much less a cause of death, we had no forensic evidence of any sort, and a witness who was so enamored with the manipulative Defendant that it was difficult to ascertain where the truth ended and the lies began. Add to that equation, a major network film crew and producer constantly watching, and the challenges multiplied exponentially. A very close second would be the case of People v. Lawrence Rivera. Mr. Rivera was a classic sociopath who succeeded in delaying his extradition from Australia (where he fled after he murdered the victim) for five years. He represented himself for over one year before the trial (before requesting an attorney) and literally tried every bit of legal maneuvering he could to never see the whites of the jurors eyes. I cross-examined him for nearly two days, which was not only challenging but draining.
Q. What goes through your mind when the jury comes back with the verdict?
SD: Probably not anything appropriate for public comment. Seriously though, I am convinced that each minute spent between the time you hear the jury has a verdict and the time they render the verdict takes years and years off the end of my life. My heart and mind race, my palms get sweaty, my blood pressure sky-rockets. After the verdict, I usually have an overwhelming sense of gratitude. I’m usually thinking how grateful I am that I have a job that makes a difference in people’s lives. And I’m grateful to the jurors who took the time to weed out the nonsense and find the truth and have the courage to hold someone accountable for their actions.
Q. What is the most difficult part of your job?
SD: Dealing with victims whose lives have literally been torn apart by the cruelness of someone else. I don’t think it ever gets easier. Having to also explain to them the realities of the criminal justice system, and the difficulties of bringing out the truth in court and proving the truth beyond a reasonable doubt—it is difficult, and requires someone who can empathize and yet still give them an honest and competent assessment of what they can expect.
Q. Best part of your job?
SD: Ironically, it is dealing with victims whose lives have literally been torn apart by the cruelness of someone else. When I get Christmas cards from parents who lost a child at the hands of another thanking me for what I do and did for them, it makes it all worthwhile.
Q. What made you want to become a prosecutor for the District Attorney’s Office?
SD: I was working at a civil law firm and preparing for a trial with a client who was suing his interior decorator. He literally had money to burn and was willing to pay the hourly rate to take this grievance to trial. In the midst of this, 9/11 happened. I saw the courage of those public servants who did what they could to help total strangers. I decided that I wanted to do something worthwhile, something that made a difference in someone’s life apart from money or material things. I also was always drawn to trying cases. Ten years later, the only time I really feel like I belong is when I’m in trial.
Q. What single piece of advice would you give to those new to the profession?
SD: I could go on and on with this one. The advice given to me from a retired judge when I told him I was going to law school was, “Be prepared to see the very worst in humanity.” I’m cynical, but maybe not that cynical. Single piece of advice? Use your common sense, understand the human condition, and base your decisions in this job based on that understanding. And don’t ever forget the decisions you make can and will affect someone for the rest of their life. Don’t take that lightly.